Shipmate Column
June 2020

Pres:  CAPT W. Spencer Johnson IV, USN (Ret.)
Sec'y: Michael H. Shelley
27 Cambridge DR, Brevard, NC 28712
h: 828-506-2201  e:
Web site:

For any classmate you can go to the Classmates Page and enter his name to read his current biography if available.

        As I prepare this column in late March it is again my sad duty to report the loss of two of our classmates.

Charles E. "Gene" Dehnert passed away on 5 March. His widow, Susan, can be contacted at 12162 Jefferson Boulevard, Mishawaka, IN 46545-7725.

Thomas E. Reemelin died on 11 March. His widow, Fran, can be contacted at 1724 Amberwynd Circle W, Palmetto, FL 34221.

Please be sure to remember these men by viewing their obituaries in the Last Call section of by clicking HERE

        In previous columns I reported about some of our classmates' fathers who served in World War II. Adding his father to our recognition of deeds and sacrifices is Dick Wyttenbach-Santos, who provided this information.
Father and son

     In my case, I am a Gold Star son. At the outbreak of WW II, my father was 27 years old, the youngest merchant captain of his own ship on the east coast and a Lieutenant in the naval reserve. He was killed on February 22, 1942, when his oil tanker, SS Cities Service Empire, was torpedoed by U-128 just 12 miles off Cape Canaveral, FL. He had been captain for two years and was taking oil from Port Arthur, TX, to Philadelphia when attacked. There was a Navy 12-man crew on board with a five-inch gun, but they never got to use it. The ship was not in a convoy and was backlighted by lights on shore, giving the submarine a clear view. My father insisted on being the last to jump off the flaming ship and fell between a rigid life raft and the ship, crushing his skull. His body was recovered, and the death certificate gave the cause of death as "murder by enemy action." In the Fall of 1942 his ashes were buried at sea by a navy chaplain while enroute to the North African invasion. The WW II Liberty Ship William F. Jerman was named for him.
SS Cities Service Empire

     When my father was killed, I was eight months old with a two-and-a-half-year-old sister. My mother married Fred Wyttenbach when I was eight years old and he adopted me. He was a friend of my birth father and an usher in my parents' wedding.
     I received a Presidential appointment to the Naval Academy as a son of a deceased veteran. There were only two of us in that category in our class. (Sec'y note: The other was Jim Metcalfe.) Actually, the law says, "children of deceased veterans" and I asked the Admissions Office if I was qualified since we never got veteran benefits. The Admissions Office never answered my question, but just sent me the forms for taking the SATs and have the physical. I was apprehensive while at the boat school that I would be declared ineligible and booted out! As graduation approached, the push was on to get us to sign up for Rickover's program. I told them that they could have a four-year submariner or a thirty-year destroyerman, because of my father. They then backed off.
     About 15 years ago, divers got down to the Cities Service Empire at a depth of 240 feet. We had a big bronze plaque made with the 14 names of the dead crew (some still in the ship) and got it mounted on the wreck in 2008. We laid a wreath at the site. My daughter, Debbie, was presented with the ship's bell by the divers. She rings it every February 22nd.

     From eighth grade, I was devoted and dedicated to protecting American merchantmen. In my 32 years in a navy uniform, not one American merchantman lost his life by hostile action. We came close to losing some mariners when the Mayaquez was seized in 1975 but got them back unharmed. I did not strive for flag rank, but to prevent hostilities at sea. I was fortunate in having a significant role in developing our Maritime Strategy (1980-1991) which broke the back of the Soviet Navy and helped win the Cold War. In 1991 I was in charge of Plans and Policy at CINCPACFLT, an Admiral's position, when the Soviet Union collapsed and we were ordered to cease an update of OP-5000, the general war plan. The threat of maritime hostilities was finally over and I could safely retire. I had honored my father's memory. I had done my job.

        Here's the latest submission from Tom O'Brien, a faithful contributor to our '63 news exchange.
     Joe Navoy '64 and I (both graduates of Boston College H.S.) have been reunited after many years. We served in USS ASPRO (SSN 648) together at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, MS, in the late 60's/early 70's. I served 27-plus years in subs, including two commands at sea, and retired as CAPT, USN. Joe eventually transitioned to the Medical Corps and retired as CAPT, MC, USN. As you can see in this picture, we're having a grand time while living near Jacksonville, FL, telling sea stories!
O'Brien '63 and Navoy '64

        Jim Shull provided this information about his career, family, and '63 classmates.
     Retirement years have been good for Carol Ann and me. I retired from LifeWay Christian Resources in 2000 after at 30-year career and was able to work as a contract employee there for another 17 years. I retired from the Naval Reserve in 1989.
Jim and Carol Ann at the 55th Reunion

     Our 50th Class Reunion enabled us to reconnect with our classmates. The 2nd Company had a mini reunion in Point Clear, AL, in 2016, and we got together again at the 55th Class Reunion in San Diego in 2018. We have also spent time with Derek and Dana Simmons and Austin and Caroline Chapman who live in neighboring North Carolina as well as Bob LaGassa and Ben Harris when Bob and Zoe were visiting Ben and Judy in Chattanooga.
     Last spring, Carol Ann and I took a Viking river cruise on the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg and then an extension to Prague which was a lot of fun.
In Prague, 2019

     We live in Franklin, TN, near Nashville. One of our sons lives near us with his wife and two daughters; another son is in Birmingham with his wife and two sons. We are active in our church in Nashville which has a ministry to military veterans.

        Here's an example of how the bonds our USNA companies remain strong. This was provided, surprisingly, by a member of '93, Sean Phinney, who called to my attention a mention of the 3rd Company in the Class of '64 column in a recent issue of Shipmate. The topic was the company's custom-made beer mugs, one of which - thought to be the sole survivor -- is owned by a '64 alumnus. Sean added this comment and a photo:
     My friend and mentor, Jon '63, as well as myself, wanted to make sure that the record was set straight in case anyone was distraught over this claim. Jon is proud to still have his "Thirsty Third" mug. Possibly the owners can meet one day soon with their mugs to hoist one or more frosty, cold beverages. Witnesses from '63 will be needed to document the occasion and share in the good cheer.
Jon Warn and his cherished 3rd Company mug

        I asked Jon to submit some information about himself. Here's his response:
     Judy and I are living in Noank, CT, enjoying retirement in this small community, near our four sons and their families. Our seven grandchildren are a source of never-ending joy!
     I served on seven submarines in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets with a total of over 16 years of sea duty. Underway is the only way! Since retiring from the Navy in the mid-80s, I've worked in the fields of instrumentation and controls, operations analysis and pharmaceutical engineering. I tried to retire a few times before it finally took hold and then served part-time on a couple of corporate boards. In January, I stepped down from long service on the board of Commissioning Agents, Inc. and am now fully retired.
     Judy and I met at a mixer in Annapolis during Youngster year and we have been blessed with a long, happy and fruitful life together. After raising our boys as a dutiful and competent Navy wife, she went back to teaching middle school from which she is also retired.
     I remain in close contact with 3rd Company roommate Duane Buckingham who also lives in eastern CT. We each built second homes in beautiful Star Valley, WY, and get together in both locations.
     My old mug had been sitting unused on the back of a shelf for a long time. After seeing that picture of a "Thirsty Third" mug in Shipmate, I put it back in commission and can testify that it works great!

        Watt Miles shared some emails he exchanged with his 5th Companymate Rob Harrison. This is from Rob's text:
     I have a nephew, Rusty Harrison, who is a '65 Academy graduate. Since our initials are the same, we were once accused by the OOD of wearing each other's shirt! I'm not sure he really believed I was Rusty's uncle though. My dad believed he was the only person who ever had a son and a grandson in the Academy at the same time. I suspect it was true, but don't know for sure!
        And this from Watt:
     The story about the OOD accusing Rob and his nephew of wearing each other's shirt reminds me of a story from the late sixties at Camp Lejeune. A sergeant in my unit got the same criticism at every inspection. The inspecting officer would say, "Sergeant, you have the wrong size star on your Purple Heart." He would reply, "No sir, that's six of' em." I decided that if I ever served with him in combat, I would keep my distance.

        As I was finishing this month's report, I received this very newsy email from Jim DeFrancia with highlights of his activities during the past six months.
     Last October saw a visit from Mike and Sheila Bonsignore to our Steamboat Springs, CO, home. Mike joined me for elk hunting here on the ranch and was successful with a kill. I, unfortunately was not, as I was just recovering (by a week) from a surgery related to an earlier ski accident (of 3 years ago!) and was in a weakened condition such that my time in the field was curtailed after one morning. Mike continued with our ranch manager, Chad, and was kind enough to leave me with some of his elk meat when he had the rest shipped him to California.
     In November, I had the opportunity to serve one of our Colorado Congressmen as a member of a panel to advise him on selection of candidates for appointments to the Service Academies. That was an extremely rewarding experience, and it gives one great faith in the future of the nation to see such incredibly talented young people wishing to follow our steps into Bancroft Hall. Indeed, I am glad I attended when I did, because with all this talent now seeking admission, I would never make the cut today!
     Late January then saw Cynthia and me on an "east coast tour" starting in the Philadelphia area, where we visited with Barbara Strasser, who is looking and doing fine after our loss of Joe last summer. We then drove south to Annapolis and had an afternoon cocktail visit with Spence and Andrea Johnson. That was followed by an overnight visit with Wayne and Sydney Arny, ('64) at their home in Galesville. We had a long evening of good wine, recalling our days in Bancroft Hall as 6th Batt members in adjoining companies.
     That stop was followed by a weekend in Charleston, SC, where I had some business to address. We were joined there by Doug and Charlsie Davidson, who drove up from their home in Spring Island, SC. They are both doing quite well, and Doug still makes regular visits to the DC area for business. And they were in the process of buying a small condo in Annapolis for more frequent visits to Crabtown.
     We then returned to DC, where we were kindly hosted by Roger and Colette Mehle for a delightful dinner at the Cosmos Club in Washington. Roger was his usual marvelous and entertaining company! Cynthia and I spent a few days in the DC area while I attended to some business matters. Those included a dinner for the Trustees of the Urban Land Institute at which I had the pleasure of introducing ADM Bill McRaven of SEAL fame. He is a fabulous speaker, and was also a most interesting dinner companion.
     We returned to Colorado in February and are still here. Several planned trips, including one to Europe, have been canceled due to the pandemic, and we are hunkered down on the ranch in purposeful isolation. Quarantine is easy in the West, as our nearest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away, and the next closest at a half mile!

        Washington state sailor Denny Vaughan came east to participate in the J24 MidWinter championships in Florida in late February. Here is a picture showing him at the helm of Boat 26. Denny's in the gray coat and white hat. He got the picture from Mark Reemelin, Tom's son. Mark sails J24's in the Tampa/Davis Island area.
Denny Vaughan at the helm.

        Navy is scheduled to face Notre Dame on the gridiron in Dublin, Ireland, on 29 August. We hope the pandemic is past by then and the contest can occur as planned. If you intend to attend, please tell me so we can help our classmates connect there.

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